From his pictures of exotic wild animals to dramatic depictions of the major buildings in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, artist William Hawkins always wanted his pictures to sweep viewers off their feet. William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography is the first major exhibition in more than a decade to feature this fascinating autodidact, presenting his varied work with important examples from his favorite types of subject matter.
Hawkins explored the world through mass media and then re-presented it to the public with a uniquely expressive bravado. He appropriated most of his subjects from drawings and photographic reproductions collected from newspapers, books, calendars, magazines and other popular print media.
Simplifying the forms and heightening the colors, he elaborated passages with vigorous, swirling brushwork. He also taught himself sophisticated techniques such as scumbling, which he used to great effect. As he became more successful, Hawkins began to collage magazine clippings and found objects into his paintings. He also developed a technique he called “puffing up” a shape: building it up from the painting surface by mixing cornmeal into the enamel paint.
Drawn from important public and private collections across the United States and Europe, William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography will include 52 of Hawkins’s most important paintings, some well-known pieces and others rarely seen. The exhibition will cover all of Hawkins’s favorite subject matter, including cityscapes, landscapes, exotic places, animals, current events, historic scenes and religious scenes. The exhibition also will include one of his rare freestanding sculptural assemblages.
Hawkins left a large body of drawings, 10 of which are in the exhibition. Also featured are many of Hawkins’s most powerful paintings, including Prudential NYC and two versions each of Ohio Stadium, Red Dog Running, Tasmanian Tiger and other iconic subjects.
One of the more remarkable accomplishments of this exhibition is that it brings together eight of the nine known versions of Hawkins’s Last Supper, one of his best-known subjects.
William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography was fully organized by the Figge Art Museum and is accompanied by a fully illustrated 192-page catalogue with essays by Susan M. Crawley, Jenifer P. Borum, Curlee R. Holton and others.
About William Hawkins
As he boldly declared on his paintings, William Lawrence Hawkins was born on July 27, 1895. He grew up on his family’s prosperous farm in Kentucky and moved to Columbus, Ohio, when he was 21.
Although Hawkins probably started drawing as a child and is thought to have been selling drawings by the 1930s or 1940s, his earlier work had disappeared by 1970. He began painting seriously in the 1970s, first with found paint on found supports and later with sign painter’s enamel on standard-sized Masonite boards.
In 1981 a friend entered one of Hawkins’s paintings in the Ohio State Fair, where the judge moved it out of the amateur category and awarded it first prize.
Since his death, Hawkins’s work has been shown in a number of solo exhibitions and in dozens of group shows, but for 13 years, no major exhibition has been exclusively devoted to his work.
Read an article about Hawkins and the exhibition in Art & Antiques.
Henry Luce Foundation
Thomas K. and Jennifer figge
Tom and Mary Waterman Gildehaus Endowment
Iowa American Water
Mark and Gma Howze